How do you find a good counselor when you need to seek help for marriage issues? 

Sheila here!

I found Sarah Allman on Instagram, where we interacted about the vital importance of vetting counselors before you go to see one.

This is something I’d been talking about on the blog, and I asked her to write up some sample questions you can ask a counselor to see if they may be safe for you. I’m so glad she took up the challenge, and I hope you find these questions helpful!

A lot of Sarah’s questions have to do with abuse. Even if you are not in an abusive situation, I firmly believe these are important questions to ask when you vet a counselor. First, because many people are actually in an abusive marriages without realizing it. But second, if someone is safe when it comes to abuse, chances are they’re safe with other things as well. But if someone is not safe when it comes to abusive situations, chances are their counsel will not be wise in other situations either.

Abuse is a great litmus test.

So with that being said, here’s Sarah!

It’s unwise to assume that all counselors are safe and good.

There’s a wide range of training, experience, and perspectives of people doing marriage counseling, and before you invest money, time, and become very vulnerable with someone, you have to make sure they’re safe and a good fit.

Sometimes people believe something very different than what they say they believe. This makes it very difficult when trying to find a counselor you can trust. So, how can you find a counselor that is actually going to be good for you and good for your marriage? The questions below will help you to get the big picture of what a counselor believes before you entrust them with your healing journey.

Learning how to interview counselors in a way that gives you an understanding of their views is important.

Vetting for yourself is a necessary step in starting your healing journey with a counselor you trust.

We will discuss how to ask questions to get an idea of what the counselors actually believe. You will also get an example of what answers to look for and what answers are red flags. Many counselors offer free 10-15 minute phone consultations, and that’s a great time to ask these questions. Otherwise, you can tell the counselor that you have some questions you’d like to ask at the beginning of your first session.

Find a counselor by your location.

Sample Questions to Ask to Vet a Marriage Counselor

  1. Can you give me an example of a marital conflict that was caused by the husband and one that was caused by the wife?
  2. Can you give me an example of an inappropriate way for clients to behave in counseling?
  3. Is there a situation you would recommend individual counseling over marriage counseling?
  4. Can you sum up the marital issues you have seen in your practice?
  5. How would you know that counseling is working and not working?
  6. Do couples need to take responsibility for their actions and what if they don’t?
  7. Are you trauma-informed? What makes you trauma-informed?

Now let’s go through these in turn to see what you should look for!

1. Can you give me an example of a marital conflict that was caused by the husband and one that was caused by the wife?

Examples of marital conflict such as money, parenting, expectations, and other relationships outside of the marriage can show the counselors distinction between conflict and dysfunction. Conflict is a disagreement. Within a marriage, the conflict shows that both the husband and the wife have a strong and differing opinion, and it shows they both have autonomy. Dysfunction suggests that more is going on. Dysfunction can be a clue that there is unequal power in a marriage.

Good answer: An example that shows he/she believes husbands and wives should play an equal part in marriage. This could be a conflict around a wife wanting to save money and the husband wanting to spend. Or views on how weekends should be spent. If there is not a give and take, then over time one spouse may start to feel resentment towards the other.

Red Flag: Any answer that suggests big issues such as infidelity and abuse. The reason these are not the answer you’re looking for is because these are dysfunctions in a relationship and not conflict. Conflict takes two people to resolve. Dysfunction takes one person taking responsibility for their action and responsibility for their own growth. A good counselor will know the difference.

2. Can you give me an example of an inappropriate way for clients to behave in counseling and how would you deal with those behaviors?

What is being addressed in this question is boundaries. This question allows you to open dialogue in a way that shows you if the counselor will set good boundaries in therapy sessions. If any sessions will take place with your spouse then this one is a must. A hard line with abusive or belittling behavior needs to be drawn. There is a difference between being honest and direct and being a bully. A good counselor will NOT allow one person to be bullied. Good boundaries allow for therapy to be held in a place that feels safe for both the husband and the wife. A good counselor will enforce healthy boundaries.

Good answer: There is no name-calling, belittling, or aggressive behavior. The session will end or the offending person will be asked to leave.

Red Flag: Counseling is a place to get everything out in the open, so as long as no one is physically aggressive in sessions then it is productive to allow people to say what they need to say.

3. Is there a situation you would recommend individual counseling or marriage counseling?

This question is trying to find out if the counselor prioritizes safety over the marriage. Look for clues to see if the counselor is willing to advocate for the spouse that is in need of protection. An eagerness to bring the couple together for therapy sessions, without significant progress in individual counseling, is also something to watch out for.

Good answer: Anytime there has been abuse, individual counseling should be the first priority, even if the abuse was not related to the marriage. If a couple’s goal is to work towards marital counseling then individual counseling can help marital counseling be more successful. Counseling can be messy. Individual counseling before marital counseling can help sessions in marital counseling go smoother. Only after dedicating themselves to their own healing journey, should couples come together for marriage counseling.

Red Flag: To fix a marriage then the husband and the wife need to come together for progress to be made. So marriage counseling is where I would start with a couple I was counseling.

4. Can you sum up the marital issues you have seen in your practice and how they are remedied?

With this question, you are looking for responsibility to be placed rightly on the husband and the wife. You will also get insight into how the counselor recognizes that the husband and the wife may be responsible in different ways. Any answer that appears to blame an emotional spouse, or suggest submitting more, is a red flag that this counselor is going to be dismissive of one spouse. A good counselor will help a married couple get to the root cause of the marital issues.

Good answer: Couples who come in who are dealing with marital problems, typically both desire to work on their marriage together. They often are dealing with hurts, disappointments, and distrust that can be worked through if they both take responsibility for their actions.

Red Flag: Couples who come in usually have one person who is really sensitive and the other who allows things to roll off of their backs better. Emotions can be a stressor in relationships.

5. Do couples need to take responsibility for their actions–and what do we do if they don’t?

Each counselor will have their own way of doing things, but taking responsibility is important if progress is going to be made. You can only take responsibility for your own actions. Any counselor who asks you to take responsibility that you truly had no control over is not a healthy counselor. A wife cannot take responsibility for a husband’s actions, just as a husband cannot take responsibility for the wife’s actions. If certain steps are not being taken to improve, then healing is not going to happen.

Good answer: Yes, there should be responsibility taken. Without owning your actions, trust cannot be rebuilt and relationships cannot be healed. Working through one thing before moving on to the next is important for healing.

Red Flag: Well they should. I won’t dwell on it if they don’t, though. We will move on so we don’t waste time. Marital problems can be fixed with communication and understanding.

6. How would you know that counseling is working and not working?

It is good to know how close of attention a counselor will pay to their clients. Healing is tricky and can sometimes be messy too. So when asking a counselor this question, be sure to look for how attentive they are. This is also something to be aware of when you are meeting with a counselor.

Good answer: Everyone is different so signs that therapy is or isn’t working will be different for everyone. I would look for the things they report back on how their days between sessions are going. Asking lots of questions can help me to know how they’re doing. If someone is regressing or not corresponding to treatment then that might be a sign things are not going as planned. Hearing how the patient handles relationships, and whether perceptions are healthier than before would be a sign therapy is working.

Red flag: Everyone’s journey is different. So we will just continue the session until the client feels they’re not in need anymore.

7. Are you trauma-informed? What makes you trauma-informed?

Trauma-informed has almost become a buzzword. But what does it even mean? A counselor who is trauma-informed has taken extra training to better counsel people who have experienced traumatic life events. To be truly trauma-informed a counselor must complete this training that helps them to be more aware and careful when treating their patients with a history of trauma. A good counselor is always improving themselves and looking for new and more effective ways to serve their patients. If a counselor does not appear to be open to continuing to learn then this may be a clue that they are closed off in general. If you do have trauma, then going to a trauma-informed counselor is very important. Counseling has the potential to be damaging as much as it has the potential to be healing.

Good answer: I have taken training that specifically teaches counselors how to consider people’s trauma in therapy. My awareness and sensitivity ensure I will not re-traumatize people in therapy sessions.

Red Flag: I am familiar with trauma and how it affects people, but do not have extra training.

Choosing a counselor is not something to take lightly.

Asking these questions can help you to get a good feel about what that counselor believes and how they handle certain situations. Asking yes and no questions are not as helpful because they’re difficult to build dialogue around. Calling several counselors in your area can help you to get comfortable with interviewing counselors. This is a job interview, you are the one that gets to decide if they are a good fit.

Because you are the one hiring the counselor, you can also fire them at any time and start over. Don’t be discouraged if you choose a counselor that ends up not being a good fit. As you make phone calls and attend therapy sessions, you will learn to know what to look for.

What if therapy doesn’t work though? Questions around Christians and divorce may be something you wrestle with for a while. I wrote this post to help you if this is a part of your journey:

God Hates Divorce- Why would He help me?

Bonus Tip:

Seek God First

An important thing to remember when seeking any person for help or healing is to seek God first. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man plans his ways but the Lord establishes his steps.”

Seek God first, He will guide you. Through Him, you will have the discernment you need to make decisions that can be tricky.

How to Vet a Marriage Counselor

What do you think? Are there questions you would add? I’m thinking of creating a downloadable bonus of questions to ask you can take with you to the counselor–so add any questions you think would be helpful!

Sarah Allman

Sarah Allman

Sarah Allman is a domestic violence survivor and advocate. Making it through many years of verbal, emotional, sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse, she learned that God was the only safe place to hide her heart. During her long journey, from an island in Hawaii back to the plains of Colorado, she realized that that was the easy part. Her blog serves women who have been in abusive relationships to support them and help them sift through the confusion and pain that comes along with healing. Now living a quieter and more peaceful life, she enjoys farming with her new husband and raising their children, cows, goats, and sheep together. Find her on her blog, where she talks about abuse in marriage, or on Instagram!

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